Mother was serving in the shop but she broke off
to greet me. Her emotional weepy hug was moving,
and I felt like a blackguard for worrying her so.
Margaret and Jack were shuttled upstairs for a pot
of tea. Father, apparently, was out searching for
me. This made me swallow hard. I knew he’d be
livid with rage. Clearly it hadn’t crossed his mind
that I might be in Devon. I dreaded the prospect
of endless cross-examinations. Mother sat and
prattled away to Father’s cousins. She was clearly
relieved beyond measure. Suddenly a door banged.
Heavy feet pounded up the staircase. It sounded
like a raging bull, nostrils flared, red anger in the
eyes. It was Father.
Sightseeing blunted the edge of my misery.
Stonehenge was brooding. The stones, however,
were smaller than I’d imagined. Jack was
reminiscing about some stupid ancient novel
he’d once read that was set here. I barely listened.
My head was cloudy. I began to wonder what
Father would have in store for me. Of course he’d
be nice as pie when his cousins showed up. It
would be afterwards that his malice would bloom.
I resigned myself to a serious grounding. I couldn’t
really summon up the passion to care much, one
way or another. I watched the trees whizz by, and
the dual carriageway speed over lumpy tan hills,
inexorably heading towards the swollen grimy city.
Margaret and Jack, once they knew my plans,
offered to drive me up to London. I received a
mild pep talk about the dangers of accepting rides
from total strangers. I didn’t object, because
Margaret was so mild and cheery. However I did
wonder whether she’d spoken to Father secretly.
Anyways, I slung my haversack in the back seat
and got ready for the long drive back to the city.
I threw a cursory glance at the farmstead across
the road. Apart from the soft lowing of cows, all
was peaceful. Elizabeth didn’t deserve more
thought. She was welcome to Bryant, I would
despise them both forever. When Jack put the car
into gear, we hurtled down the snaky lanes, until
the village was left far behind us. We were to take
the slow road back to London, with plentiful breaks
along the way. Jack even wanted to pull over and
visit Stonehenge. Despite everything, my interest
was piqued. This was wonderful therapy.
In the morning, groggy, unkempt, I descended to
the breakfast table. A generous feast was laid out
for me. My appetite, however, was dulled. Margaret
and Jack were buoyant. They asked no difficult
questions. It seemed that Father hadn’t rung. Half
of my soul was wishing that Elizabeth would call
on me. That she would explain how Bryant was just
a friend, and that I was her true love. Of course no
such thing happened. I finished my crispy rashers
of bacon in silence. Soon it would be time to pack
my meagre bag and hitch back to London. Father
would demand immediate answers. Mother would
be frantic. My soul quailed at the thought of
endless interrogations. I looked up. Margaret was
gazing kindly my way. I would have loved to stay
on, but it was impossible. The city was waiting. It
was in its smoky maw that I belonged.
I excused myself and ran up to my room. I felt
sure that Margaret and Jack had divined what
had transpired. I felt like blubbering for a thousand
years but strangely no tears came. I knelt beside
the bed like I was praying. No thought of winning
back Elizabeth flickered through my head. I was
entirely defeated. Even my rival’s name smacked
of success in love. Bryant. I cursed him. Eventually
I crawled under the sheets and struggled to rest.
Tomorrow I would return home. Blot out this
dreadful romantic disaster in my life. Girls just
weren’t for me. It was all too fraught. With that
decision I turned onto my side and sleep took me.
Dan swung open the door. When he saw me, he
looked awkward and embarrassed. I stood on the
step and inquired after Elizabeth. Suddenly I knew
it was bad news. Dan explained that she was up
in the top field with her boyfriend Bryant. The
simple words slew my heart. I didn’t want to linger.
I wished to run down a rabbit hole and die. Dan,
however, invited me inside. My ears were
pounding. My hearing had gone. I slumped, and
lent against the door frame heavily. I muttered
that I’d have to be on my way. Dan looked
sorrowfully at me. He understood. I turned to go.
It was like my feet were glued to the ground.
With immense difficulty, I strode across the big
courtyard. The big red tractor was a blurry mess
in front of my eyes. An angry farm dog barked.
My life was over.
Margaret was in the garden pruning her roses.
She wore a dishevelled hat and didn’t seem at
all surprised when I sprang out of the ground.
It was almost as if she’d been expecting me.
We went inside for a pot of herbal tea, where
Jack was sharpening the kitchen knives. Neither
of them looked like they were going to dob me in
to Father. Margaret asked charmingly whether I’d
like to stay the night. My room was already made
up. Suddenly I felt like weeping, they were so
welcoming. I explained how I needed to see
Elizabeth urgently. There was no inane smirking,
not even a wry smile. Margaret nodded her head
sagely. After dinner, which was a fragrant pot
roast, I would step across the lane and embrace
Jim dropped me at the familiar intersection. It
would mean an eight mile walk into the village.
Gently, Jim encouraged me to call my folks and
keep them in the picture. He didn’t know Father.
As the rig squealed and groaned, then disappeared
from view, I felt suddenly forsaken. This was a
crazy mission. I decided to call on Margaret and
Jack first and tidy myself up. I had no doubt that
they’d be delighted to see me, as well as
concerned and perplexed. I realized I wouldn’t
have long, before my appalling Father came down
no claim me. Rapidly I began to walk. There was
no footpath. The hedgerows were buzzing with
bees. It was a humid evening. I covered the
distance remarkably quickly. My stomach cramped
up when I saw the old farm buildings. Nothing had
outwardly changed. I jogged across the lane, and
knocked gently on Jack and Margaret’s front door.
There would be tricky questions. I steeled myself.
I was ready.
I couldn’t believe my good fortune. Jim, the rig
driver, was travelling to Plymouth. He’d be able to
take me all the way. We sat up high above the road
like kings, and the miles flew under our tyres. Jim
was surprisingly taciturn, but he didn’t make you
feel uncomfortable. I spilled my whole story. Jim
seemed to have heard it all before. Afterwards, he
even wished me luck with the dame. We stopped
at a haulage cafe for breakfast. I had twenty
pounds in cash, but Jim insisted he buy me a full
English. I consumed the greasy fare delightedly,
and swigged at a sweet mug of tea. The food was
heartening. By now the school had probably rung
Father. This seemed immaterial. As we clambered
back into the truck, Jim said we had another four
hours to go. I relished the thought of the open road
and our commanding position high above the other
puny motorists. Elizabeth was going to be mine.
I stashed a change of clothes into my school
satchel. Nobody suspected a thing. I had no clear
idea of the way to Devon. I only knew it was to
the south-west. So I walked out to the dual
carriageway and positioned myself by the
roadside. It had begun to drizzle faintly. I knew
that hitchhikers often carried cardboard signs
indicating their desired destination. It was too late
for that, but I stuck out my thumb boldly. I waited
disconsolately for half an hour, until a huge
juggernaut came to a screeching halt, its airbrakes
hissing like a thousand adders. Up in the rig
a colossal man signalled for me to hop up.
Nervously I placed my foot on the step and
struggled inside. My epic journey had begun.